WASHINGTON — President Trump’s attempts to convince Americans that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was a giant “hoax” has taken a beating lately.
Indeed, Trump’s preposterous tweets that this “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media” have been beaten to a pulp.
That became crystal clear when the president’s Justice Department released a 37-page federal indictment last week, detailing a three-year plot by Moscow to plant false political stories throughout our nation’s social media in a scheme to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
The detailed indictments of 13 Russian operatives and three Russian firms, signed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, was announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein before a packed news conference last week.
Rosenstein said the Kremlin perpetrators “allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare against the United States,’ with the stated goal of spread(ing) distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” The people who concocted these phony stories that were sent out across social media “took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists,” he said.
One of the most revealing disclosures in the indictment was how deeply Mueller’s investigators were able to penetrate the internal communications of a once-secret Russian “troll farm” in St. Petersburg.
When the news broke that Mueller’s team was digging into Russia’s operations, it threw one of the trolls into a panic: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues,” the agent said, according to the indictment report.
The agent, identified as Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, explained, “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”
The indictment report detailed the makeup of one of the troll farms, which was comprised of at least 80 people with experience in data analysis, graphics, search-engine development, and the manufacture of fictional political stories.
The report’s exhaustive detail of the Russian operation, and its ability to produce fake stories that looked and sounded like real political material, shook GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement, calling their plot “a sinister and systematic attack on our political system.”
But the strongest response to the Justice Department’s indictment came from our own intelligence community, which raked Trump over the coals for refusing to condemn the Kremlin for its duplicitous cyber war on our elections. Especially former CIA director John Brennan, who was outraged when Trump insisted that the “results of the election were not impacted.”
“Claims of a ‘hoax’ in tatters,” Brennan tweeted. “My take: Implausible that Russian actions did not influence the views and votes of at least some Americans.”
Despite repeated pleas by his top aides to admit that the Russians were fully behind the political cyberattacks, Trump has refused to do so.
During one presidential campaign debate, Trump also declined to criticize Russia for its hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails.
“I mean, it could be Russia. But it could also be China,” he said during the debate. “It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
Eventually, Trump decided to go to the only person who knows for sure — and who, he thinks, would never lie to him: Vladimir Putin.
In November, during a trip to Asia, he met with the former KGB agent, whom he holds in high regard and has often praised as “a strong leader.” Trump put the question to Putin directly.
“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Some time after Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and seized it, candidate Trump insisted that when he became president, the Russian troops would no longer be there.
“He’s (Putin) not going into the Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos, host of the ABC program “This Week.”
At the end of last year, thousands of Russian armored vehicles and troops were still in Eastern Ukraine.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.